Rated – R
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
What you know about Whiplash and what you’ve heard cannot do it enough justice. Here is a film that defies everything that you know about the teacher-student genre, or the underdog story. This is a film that will shock you to the edge of your seat, and just when you think you’ve seen this sort of movie before, Whiplash will prove you wrong.
Saying that this movie is intense is an understatement. Who would’ve imagined a movie about an aspiring jazz musician can make your heart beat so fast? Not me, but I was pleasantly surprised and happy to admit that I didn’t see it coming. This isn’t your conventional feel-good story about a teacher who embraces his student to achieve greatness. No, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Starting with Miles Teller playing Andrew Neyman, a first year student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, there’s no doubt he has talent. But how far can his talent take him? What are the limits to his success? That’s when J.K. Simmons comes into play as Terence Fletcher, the conductor who has a reputation that shows from the way his students react when he enters the room. They sit up and become so silent you can hear everyone breathe. Fletcher is their drill sergeant and he has them wrapped around his finger like a group of well-trained animals. Except that Andrew isn’t trained yet.
Fletcher and Andrew aren’t very different, but it’s clear that the elderly Fletcher is a master at manipulation while Andrew still has a few strands of uncontaminated life inside of him. But they’re both obsessed with being the best. How good is the best? There’s a dinner scene with Andrew’s family where we witness that question being asked. Andrew is being over-shadowed by his family, but as he points out they’re merely the best at a certain degree. He wants to be the absolute best in the world and wants to be remembered for it. The best isn’t good enough in Andrew’s mind. He wants to transcend it and become a legend.
The impressionable kid falls under Fletcher’s spell, even when he berates and physically abuses Andrew in front of the rest of the group. These tactics aren’t the ones you want to hear about if they were happening to your child, but Fletcher believes that society has lead the way to lazy and unfilling results. If you don’t try and push someone, how will you ever know what he’s capable of doing? Fletcher also doesn’t care for the phrase “good job.” And as frightening as he can be during many moments in the film, it’s hard to argue with his point.
I’m not sure if you’re going to see a better duo performance this year than Teller and Simmons. Also, writer/director Damien Chazelle must be given a lot of credit for constructing such a powerful and engaging drama. What it comes down to is figuring out the motives for these characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing. Depending on where you stand can alter your opinion on the conclusion of Whiplash, but one thing is certain for all: this is one memorable film.